IndyBar: Retiring Judge Michael P. Barnes Offers Words of Hope to New Admittees

Barnes Barnes

After an admirable career of 18 years on the appellate bench, retiring Judge Michael P. Barnes addressed the new class of attorneys at the Indiana Supreme Court Admission Ceremony on May 15. While Judge Barnes’ remarks were directed to the new admittees, his thoughtful advice and words of wisdom serve a special reminder to all who continue to practice law: remain honest, do the right thing and never lose sight of your compassion.

As we reflect on the years Judge Barnes spent in our appellate court, let us also consider the message he instilled on our new attorneys during the Admission Ceremony as we continue our practice. Thank you, Judge Barnes, for the remarkable impact you’ve left on our bar and in our community!

Below are Judge Michael P. Barnes’ remarks to the new class of attorneys at the Indiana Supreme Court Admission Ceremony on May 15.

Thank you, Judge Vaidik, for allowing me the privilege of addressing these admittees. In my 18 years on the court, I estimate that I have watched several thousand new lawyers be formally admitted, and it is always an honor to participate in this ceremony.

I congratulate you. This is a remarkable and singular achievement. This is a day to remember and cherish. Please remember to thank your parents, spouses, friends and all who helped you reach this goal. It should go without saying, but I am saying it: this day would not have occurred without the support, assistance and love of those closest to you.

When the Chief Judge asked me to speak today, I thought and thought about what message I could deliver that would inspire you, dazzle you and have my remarks make an indelible and lasting impression on you.

You won’t be surprised to know that I’m not sure that’s possible. After all, you are here to be sworn in, receive your “ticket” to practice law, celebrate a bit and move on. Are any words from a judge going to “wow” you? Probably not, but I do want to share a few thoughts with you and hopefully (at some point in your career), you will remember this day and perhaps a word or two or a thought or two that we shared.

Truth, integrity and compassion: These qualities are especially important for any person, but acutely and keenly so for a lawyer.

Because of the adversarial nature of our profession, sometimes truth becomes a secondary consideration. That is unacceptable. Truth is often difficult, it is sometimes painful, but it is always necessary. Without truth, no conversation, negotiation, or email exchange has any meaning. Truth is what any person, but especially a lawyer’s reputation, is built on. Just as the cliché, “there is only one chance to make a good first impression,” has merit, so too does the fact that once a lawyer develops a reputation for not being truthful, that attorney’s standing and reputation may never be able to be repaired. Lawyers have what I think is an unfair reputation of ducking the truth, being evasive and outright prevaricating. No one expects you to sacrifice a client’s interest or be less than a forceful advocate for your client, but we do and should expect all to be truthful.

Integrity is intertwined with truth, but it is more than just being truthful. Integrity is doing what one says will be done, when one says it will be done, in a way that is professional and lawyer-like. As that famous American philosopher Oprah Winfrey has said, “real integrity is doing the right thing knowing nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not.” Integrity is the way and manner in which one conducts business. Is one civil? Are appointments kept? Are professional responsibilities and commitments (both at work and in private life) met and fulfilled? A lawyer can have no higher praise than to be known as a person of integrity and you should all aspire to be known as that.

Compassion doesn’t mean being a pushover. It doesn’t mean one has to cave in to demands at the first hint of confrontation. True compassion is a quality that makes the person who possesses it thoughtful, deliberate and discerning. Without compassion decisions are only black and white. There is only one way to arrive at a conclusion. It’s my way or the highway. That course is too easy and not worthy of your lawyerly skills. While there are, of course, those instances where principle applies and dictates an outcome, you as lawyers will face situations and circumstances which demand your thoughtful consideration, and yes, sometimes your compassion. Exercise your compassionate skills – you won’t be disappointed.

I have had the honor to be a judge on the Indiana Court of Appeals for 18 years. I am far closer to the end of my legal career than I was when I first sat at one of these induction ceremonies. I wish for you the joy, the satisfaction and the feeling of accomplishment that a career in the law brings.•

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